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Mount Tennent offers climbers incredible views of Canberra with a new stone track | The Canberra Times


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It’s long been a disappointing end to an epic hike. After huffing and puffing up the tortuous first 5km of track, the final ascent on Mt Tennent was through tall forest with no real opportunities to enjoy the views. Once at the top, hemmed in by even more tall timber the outlook from the hulking 1375m peak was equally as underwhelming. It was like driving along the Great Ocean Road in the dark. You knew the landscape out the window was dramatic, but you just couldn’t see it. However, with a new section of track replacing the last 2.5km slog from the saddle to the peak, the trek is now supposedly “much more uplifting”. According to James Overall of ACT Parks and Conservation Service, “the new track has completely changed the walk,” boasting “it’s now got to be the best rock step walk in the ACT”. High praise indeed. But as the ranger in charge of developing the new route, he would say that, wouldn’t he? So earlier this week, I dusted off the hiking boots, stretched my hammies (800m of vertical gain is no walk in the park) and headed south to see if the new track lived up to expectation. The first 5km is essentially on the same track as my previous hikes before the black summer of 2019/20, but today it feels different. With so much vegetation scorched in the fires the northern face of the mountain is now much more exposed to the elements and with recent rain, water is running everywhere. Then there are the steps. Over 300 of the wooden steps burnt in the fire have been replaced by stone, a much more natural look. However, appearances aside, it’s still a head-down, bum-up climb. More than once my burning calves beg me to turn around. I’m so glad I didn’t, for after reaching the saddle and taking the turn-off along the clearly marked new track which meanders across the upper northern face of the mountain it doesn’t take long to realise Ranger James’ hype is warranted. Each time I think, ‘oh wouldn’t it be good if the track traversed that rock crevice or skirted that boulder field’, it does. The track leads you where you want to go – it’s the ultimate desire path. However, without doubt the highlight of this new section of track is where it pops out of the forest to a series of giant cliff-top rock slabs. It’s a clear day, and from one of these natural sentries I can pick-out the dome-like Bowning Hill on the northern horizon, and from another the hills beyond Lake George. Black Mountain is a mere bump in the mid-ground. It’s hard to believe the old route deprived us of such majestic vistas for so long. As the track winds high and higher, it wraps around the summit, providing unparalleled views of the Tinderries to the east and then into the rugged heart of Namadgi to the south. Now, any bushwalker clambering up a mountain the height of Tennent would normally rest for lunch at the summit. It makes sense – the natural half-way point. But today I break with tradition. It’s not that I’m repelled by the summit topped by a fire tower and other transmission towers, it’s more that I’d much rather enjoy some respite back on one of those cliff-top rock slabs. Wow! Devon and tomato sauce sandwiches never tasted so good. Ranger James was right, this new track really has transformed this hike. But building it was no easy feat. “Due to the sensitivity of several Indigenous cultural spots, we weren’t allowed any heavy machinery so had to do everything by hand” reveals Garreth Paton, Director of Iconic Trails, the local company responsible for building the new track. As part of the job hundreds of rock steps needed to be built. “All the rocks were sourced on-site but it was back-breaking work moving them by hand” explains Garreth, adding “many of the rocks are like icebergs, you only see about one-quarter above the surface.” Gee, talk about hard yakka. At the start of the job, Garreth and his small team of half a dozen labourers accessed the work site by driving up a nearby fire trail. However, when wet weather rendered the road impassable, rather than delay the build, the work gang decided to walk up. Yes, all the way from the bottom. Every. Single. Day. “Not one person complained as it was magic up there”, reveals Garreth, adding “throughout winter it was often miserable in Canberra, but up there above the clouds it was a different world”. And get this. When the fire trail was accessible again, rather than jump back in their vehicles for the daily commute, Garreth’s team opted to continue to trudge up and down the track on foot, often braving sub-zero temperatures and occasional snow flurries for another 50 days. Really! Talk about gluttons for punishment. Long-term readers of this column will know that your akubra-clad columnist has searched all over Tennent in vain for the booty supposedly squirreled away in a hide-out by bushranger John Tennant. It’s bordered on an obsession. However, during my walk this week my thoughts never once turned to Tennent’s gold. That’s because there’s now a different type of treasure on this mountain and it’s much easier to find – the new track that Garreth and Co. built. Try it before the rest of Canberra does. You won’t be disappointed. Meanwhile, I’m off for a long hot bath. Mt Tennent Track: 7.5km each way. The first 5km is still steep (especially hard on the knees on the way back down), but the opportunity to enjoy the 2.5km of new track at the top is more than worth it. The track starts at the Namadgi National Park Visitor Centre (Naas Rd, Tharwa) where the carpark gates close at 4pm so to avoid being locked in park outside the gates in a designated area. Depending on fitness levels the walk could take anywhere from 4 – 8 hours. Allowing for regular stops, someone with average fitness should complete the walk in about 6 hours. Tim’s Tip: This trek up Mt Tennent has a reputation as one of the hardest on-track half-day walks in the ACT for good reason. There are 2139 (yes, I counted) formed steps (including 519 in the new section) on the track which gains 800m in altitude. Take lots of water (and then more), and if hot, start early. Tennant’s Treasure: John Tennant (correct spelling of his surname) wasn’t your classic bushranger of the gold rush era, rather an escaped convict who resorted to a life of subsistence crime in the mid-late 1820s. According to local legend he often hid out in a cave on Mt Tennent (as it’s incorrectly gazetted) where he may have left treasure behind when he was captured in 1828. Failed search: In “Canberra: Its History and Legends” John Gale recounts that while searching for the treasure he fell into a cave where “past decrepid and worn-out wallabies had made this their sepulchre.” The adventurous newspaperman only found his way out to safety via a death-defying crawl along a precipice. Did You Know? In 1992 Richard Begbie penned Tennant’s Gold (Brolga Press) a novel in which a group of Tharwa kids search for the lost treasure. Although written for a younger audience it’s a fun read for anyone embarking on a walk-up the mountain. CONTACT TIM: Email: tym@iinet.net.au or Twitter: @TimYowie or write c/- The Canberra Times, 9 Pirie St, Fyshwick Clue: The Junction Last week: Congratulations to Sarah Wilson of Kaleen who just beat Rohan Reynolds of Hawker as first to correctly identify last week’s photo (inset) as the suspension bridge across the Murray River at Tom Groggin Station on the NSW/Victoria border. How to enter: Email your guess along with your name and suburb to tym@iinet.net.au The first email sent after 10am, Saturday November 20, 2021 wins bragging rights. Double passes to Dendy, the Home of Quality Cinema will be offered again soon. Close call As travel restrictions lift, and many of us travel further afield, a reminder to watch out for our wildlife which enjoyed a reprieve from having to dodge cars during the height of the pandemic. Earlier this week, while driving through the high country in Victoria, Stephen Curtain’s headlights lit up this koala sitting in the middle of the road. “I saw a vehicle approaching from the opposite direction so stopped and turned on my car’s hazard lights” reports Stephen. Just as the approaching vehicle came to halt, but before Stephen had time to approach the driver, “the koala wandered off the road and into the safety of the bush”. Aww, I love a happy ending. While recently walking the Tuggeranong – Parliament House section of the Canberra Centenary Trail (CCT), David Hatherly came across this log which he reckons bears a striking resemblance to Edvard Munch’s famous painting ‘The Scream’. It’s about 10m off the CCT, and about 450m SW of the point where the track meets Hindmarsh Drive. MORE YOWIE MAN:

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